AirAsia X sells 20 pct stake to Japanese, Bahrain investors

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia s first long haul budget carrier, AirAsia X, said Thursday it has sold a 10 percent stake each to Japan s Orix Group and Bahrain-based Manara Consortium for a total of 250 million ringgit ($77 million).The deals mark an important phase in the airline s growth as the money will be used to pay for fleet expansion, it said in a statement. We believe that AirAsia X is now well-placed to further enhance its reach to destinations in the Middle East and North Asia, and to continue to revolutionize the long-haul travel market by providing everyday low fares, said Chief Executive Azran Osman-Rani. This new investment will allow AirAsia X to expand its fleet with new generation aircraft and further strengthen Malaysia s leading position as Asean s low cost carrier hub, he said.After the share sale, AirAsia X s parent, Aero Ventures Sdn. Bhd., will own 48 percent of the carrier, while billionaire Richard Branson s Virgin Group will hold 16 percent, the statement said.The region s largest low-cost carrier, AirAsia, will own the remaining 16 percent stake, it said.AirAsia X now flies from Kuala Lumpur to Australia s Gold Coast and to Hangzhou in China using leased aircraft. It has ordered 15 wide-bodied A330s, two of which will be delivered this year. Another two will be delivered in 2009.The airline hopes to add 50 extra-wide body A350 or Boeing 787-10 jetliners to its fleet as it adds routes to China, Britain, India, South Korea, Japan and the Middle East over the next few years, officials said. We are still in talks to buy an additional 25 aircraft, with 25 options, Azran told Dow Jones Newswires. He said the airlines hopes to make a decision in the second half of the year.AirAsia X, which launched flights in November, expects to be profitable in its second year of operations and hopes to list the company in Malaysia as early as 2010, he said.AirAsia X Chairman Kalimullah Hassan said many investors had expressed interest in the stake but Manara and Orix were selected because they add value to the airline. Manara will allow AirAsia X greater access to the fast-growing Middle East region while Orix will contribute its significant expertise in aviation finance and leasing, he said.Manara, which comprises four Saudi investment groups, will later transfer its investment to the Manara Infrastructure Fund which invests in infrastructure projects, including airports, in Islamic countries, the statement said.Orix is a shareholder in Japan s top low-cost carrier, Skymark Airlines, and also an aircraft owner in Ireland, it added. – AP

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